17 January 2015

Why Do Trans People Need To Be Protected From "The Vagina Monologues"?

It's a cliche, but I'll say it anyway:  Sometimes the smartest people do the stupidest things.

Now, I realize that stupid people get into elite colleges and universities.  But, on the whole, I would suspect that most students in faculty members in prestigious liberal arts colleges like Mount Holyoke are pretty smart people.

I would even include whoever makes the programming decisions for their theatre.  And I would say as much even after, as student spokesperson Erin Murphy announced, it was cancelling plans to host a production of The Vagina Monologues, which had been performed there every year since Eve Ensler wrote it in 1996.

Mount Holyoke, one of the last all-female colleges in the US, began to admit transgender students last year.  Hence the rationale for the misguided decision to cancel the play:  Someone decided that it could offend trans students.

Why?  According to Murphy, "At its core, the show offers an extremely narrow perspective on what it means to be a woman."

All right.  I respect Murphy for trying, as best as she knows how, to show respect for her new classmates.  However, that attempt is seriously misguided.  More specifically, it stems from a very flawed reading of the play.

I've seen several performances of Monologues, though I admit that I haven't seen one in a few years.  Never did I think that the play said, or even implied that being a woman means having a vagina, or vice-versa.  To be sure that neither my memory nor reading is flawed, I did a quick search and found out that Ms. Ensler herself has never advanced such a definition of a woman, and did not write the play with such a definition in mind. 

To me, in the play, the vagina represents a woman's power and vulnerability, her oppression and the ways in which she must be aware of herself and men do not. I saw the play while I was still living as Nick, during my transition and after my surgery. I admit that I identified with it more closely the more I lived as a woman, but even before I started my counseling and therapy, I felt the play resonated with the vagina within me, so to speak.  

And every trans person must be or become aware of the ways we are, have been and can be subject to violence and exploitation, as well as the paths of awareness that open to us, because of our physical (as I now have) or metaphorical vaginas.  That, I believe, is as much a part of a definition of womanhood as anything else I can think of.  

To deny the new trans students at Mount Holyoke--or trans people anywhere--the opportunity to learn those things, or simply experience the power of the play itself, is a disservice.  I don't know Ms. Murphy, but I'll assume that wasn't her intention, or that of the theatre board that voted to cancel this year's showing of The Vagina Monologues.  

In short:  We need it. We don't need to be protected from it. 

1 comment:

Sophie said...

Was asked if I'd be interested in reading in a Berlin production. Had a problem with the times but otherwise would probably have done it. Asked and according to that director, there's at least one trans monologue and there was an all trans production some years back.